BOSTON – It’s going to take more than just a public endorsement from his own team president Cam Neely for Patrice Bergeron to earn a spot among the three Selke Trophy finalists this season, never mind actually win the award.
Oddly enough, it’s going to take more goals for Bergeron to better his resume for the award that goes to the best defensive forward in the NHL.
With his hat trick tonight, Bergeron just might be on pace to score enough to be considered for a trophy that’s supposed to honor shutdown ability rather than sniping skills.
Bergeron, who Neely went out of his way to praise for his defensive gifts this afternoon on 98.5 The Sports Hub, now has five goals in his last three games after his first career NHL hat trick in Boston’s 6-0 rout of Ottawa at TD Garden.
His season’s total is at 13, which puts him on pace for about 26 for the full 82-game season.
Striking that balance between matching up against the league’s top lines and still contributing to the Bruins’ offense can be an even steeper challenge than returning from a Grade 3 concussion. He has endured goal droughts of six and eight games already this season.
But Bergeron conquered that injury long ago, and these days he’s finding ways to make team’s pay for taking him lightly on the attack.
“Actually it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun to be on the offense and I guess it’s your best defense sometimes,” said Bergeron, who leads Boston with 32 points and is first among forwards at plus-16. “It’s always great. And to be honest with you, I take a lot of pride in playing smart and don’t cheat on the offense. But once I do get a chance, I want to score.”
Bergeron earned a spot on the gold-medal-winning Canadian Olympic team from former Selke winner Steve Yzerman last winter based on his defensive prowess, including his faceoff success. Then the Boston center finished fifth in the actual Selke voting done by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
While it can be difficult to gauge a player’s defensive abilities without watching him every day, perhaps Bergeron just needed to score more than just the 19 goals he buried last season to garner more Selke support. After all, Pavel Datsyuk, winner of the Selke three years running, scored 27 goals last season. In his previous two Selke years, Datsyuk scored 32 and 31 goals, respectively.
Since 2000, the 10 Selke winners (there wasn’t one for the lost season of ’05) have averaged 28.5 goals. The last player to win the Selke without scoring at least 20 goals was Montreal’s Guy Carbonneau with 18 in 1992. Even Ron Francis, in the lockout shortened year of ’95, was on pace to break 20 goals with 11 in the 44-game season. Boston’s lone winner all-time, Steve Kasper, scored 20 back in 1982, when he practically won the award just for the defensive job he did as “Gretzky’s Shadow” during the regular season against NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky.
There has to be some way to grab more voters’ attention, and lighting the lamp might just do the trick. However, that doesn’t mean Bergeron should, or will, desert his defensive responsibilities. None other than Bruins one-time Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara, who knows a thing or two about producing offense while concentrating first and foremost on bottling up would-be snipers, thinks Bergeron is taking the right approach to be a defensive whiz and an offensive threat.
“When you’re facing the top lines, for sure you can’t be thinking offense,” said Chara. “That’s obviously bad thinking. My job for tonight’s game, or every night – speaking for myself and obviously Bergy too – is shutting those guys down. Once you do that, if you do your job in the defensive zone and you make it really hard for them, obviously they’re going to get frustrated, they’re going to do probably different things. Then you force them to make maybe some mistakes or some plays that they’re not used to, and that’s when you capitalize on them.”
With Datsyuk and Jordan Staal, a finalist from last season, out injured for a large chunk of this season, there might be spare room in Las Vegas for some new blood. Last year’s third finalist Ryan Kesler of Vancouver already has 23 goals and a plus-17 rating, so you can write his name down on the Selke dance card. You always have to watch out for Philadelphia’s Mike Richards and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews. There are other forwards who will be in the argument when it comes time to submit the ballots.
Don’t expect Bergeron to do any handicapping of the Selke race, though.
“It’s always nice to hear that from a guy like Cam,” said Bergeron. “But I’ve got to keep playing, playing well and see what happens. But to be honest, I’ve said that before, I don’t really think about that stuff.”
If humbleness was a criterion for the Selke, or any award, Bergeron would be the leader in the clubhouse. Luckily, he has Neely – a person all us hockey writers hold in high regard – to do his boasting for him.